Fueled by my love for cookbooks and the televised sedative that is The Great British Baking Show, I set out to make something new each weekend last winter. It feels strange to be writing about warm ovens and dough in the summertime, but it is never wrong to write about food. Besides, according to the retail industry and the cicadas, fall will be here before we know it.
I love to bake, and it may be the closest thing to what could be considered a hobby for me. I am fond of the planning, the process and the consumption of my hobby, so, after the new year I decided to embrace baking more fully and I figured the deep, dark winter was the perfect time to sharpen my skills.
The following are some of my baking success stories with photos as proof:
French Baguette: I am nervous around yeast and usually either kill it or don’t enable it enough to grow. In the past, I have made bread so dense and that it would be considered a weapon and confiscated by TSA, not that one flies with a baguette, but I suppose it depends on the in-flight meals offered. This time the result was quite nice and the recipe I used yielded 2 loaves of sublime bread which were enjoyed and frozen respectively.
King Cake: When a holiday/special occasion/reason to eat food comes around, I like to acknowledge it with a notable dish. A King Cake, which is traditionally served during Mardi Gras, includes scary yeast, multiple proofs and braiding of dough. I was honestly shocked that it worked out as well as it did. Traditionally, a tiny plastic baby is placed inside the cake to garner good luck to the person who discovers it. In lieu of a baby, I improvised with a LEGO Han Solo. LEGO minifigures can be found in every corner of my house.
Black & White Cookies: This NY deli staple featured in a notorious Seinfeld episode was much more difficult than I thought. I make frosted cookies all the time and went into this endeavor with more ego than talent. The dough is thick and weird, and the frosting is unmanageable. Not to mention that these cookies are HUGE. One batch only yielded 8 cookies. These cookies were meant as a gift for my uncle, so I persevered and was pleased with the result, as was he.
Apple Pie: This one was a bit of a cheat because I bake an apple pie every Thanksgiving. This year I was asked to make it for Easter dinner, which just seemed wrong. Who does that? Typically, I worry over the pie crust, but all I really alter is the way I cut the butter (frozen and grated on a cheese grater has worked very well in case you’re interested).
The following was a disappointing failure and I will spare you the depressing pictures:
Cream Puffs: I attempted to make cream puffs using “Maison Kayser’s French Pastry Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide.” Do not let Monsieur Kayser fool you. His recipes may seem simple and easy to follow. They are not. My sad little puffs never made it to my Oscar party because they were not, in any way puffy and I have no idea what I did wrong. I will try choux pastry again someday, but for now I am far too jaded. Full disclosure: I ate them anyway.
I am fortunate to work in a field where I come across deliciously photographed cookbooks on a regular basis and I admit to hoarding new titles, so I can try new recipes.
This is a list of cookbooks that I have used and recommend:
Presents the seven master dough recipes for traditional Jewish baking with illustrated instructions and flavor pairings that update the classic recipes, including such variations as tomato basil challah, spicy pizza rugelach, and chocolate babka.
A simple, all-encompassing baking reference collects more than 2,000 recipes for a wide variety of classic, trendy and international options and variations, sharing illustrated how-to instructions as well as advice for adapting recipes for vegan and other customizable needs.
A collection of recipes from Michigan’s renowned artisanal bakery in celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary features such options as sour cream coffee cake, Jewish rye, challah, Boston cream pie, French crullers, and pecan sandies with bacon.
Collects recipes for the Italian-inspired cafâe dishes and breads from the popular Manhattan bakery, including such options as asparagus pizza, ciabatta, bran and blackberry muffins, oven-baked pasta, and brisket braised in black tea.
(Just because I can’t master French pastry doesn’t mean that you should be denied the opportunity.)
Master the art of French pastry with step-by-step instructions from one of Paris’s best bakers and founder of the renowned Maison Kayser. Soon after Maison Kayser opened its first shop in New York City in 2012, USA Today named it one of America’s best bakeries. Not surprising considering Eric Kayser is recognized as one of the most talented artisan bakers in the world. One of the draws to this ever-growing chain is the dozens of colorful and delicate pastries found in the window every day. And now you can make them at home.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include this little plug:
“The Great British Baking Show”
Follow the trials and tribulations of passionate amateur bakers whose goal is to be named the U.K.’s best. Each week, the bakers tackle a different skill, the difficulty of which increases as the competition unfolds, judged by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.